Warning: Some spoilers (But you know, a book that can be spoiled by a plot revelation is not worth reading)
I just finished reading Greg van Eekhout's Show and Tell and Other Stories , an elegant chapbook from Tropism Press. I really can't recommend it highly enough, and if you haven't yet bought a copy you're missing out. The most striking thing about these stories is their energy, the crackling and fizzing of words, and the way they combine an almost old-fashioned sensawunda with a very literary narrative.
Here're some thoughts on the stories. I tried to keep them as spoiler-free as I could, but some thoughts demanded context. So there.
My favorite of the bunch was "Native Aliens", hands-down. There are two parallel narratives. The first one details the experience of a Dutch-Indonesian family during the Dutch expulsion from Indonesia after WWII. The ugliness of the situation in Indonesia during WWII, when it was in the middle of hostilities between the Dutch and the Japanese and then during the Japanese occupation, is only hinted at, but that background is effective and horrifying. Same goes for the Dutch colonialism and the fallout of the independence movement. The protagonist and his family go 'home', to the Netherlands they had never seen before.
The other narrative, taking place in the remote future, mirrors the first; only this time the colonialists who go home are the Terrans. This story had a special resonance for me, because really, it was all about people who do not belong anywhere. They find happiness and little joys in the intersices of life, but they will never belong. And there's no going back home, and there is no home, and there never will be.
The rest of the stories do not disappoint. The scope of this collection is quite impressive for a chapbook of six stories -- they range from rather whimsical ("Show and Tell", a wonderful story taking place in the school for elaborated children) to somber ("In the Late December", which takes place after the end of the universe, and deals with Santa trying to carry on the present deliveries to the few remaining survivors, and it is scary and funny and Christmas-y).
We also have "Authorwerx", where a future company recreates dead celebrities (even the most obscure of them, including long-forgotten writers) for encounters with the living. This story starts out as pretty science-fictiony, quickly veers into really realy strange, and ends up being profound and moving.
Then there's "Anywhere There's a Game", a seies of flash stories about basketball. I didn't expect to like this one due to my deep indifference toward spectator sports, but fortunately the story was about weird and wonderful people who happened to play basketball. So I liked it.
"Far As You Can Go" is the only original story here, and it has a broken robot in it. I'm very partial to broken robots and traditionally inanimate objects as protagonists, so I enjoyed this one a lot. And it is hopeless in the beginning, and I really liked that it didn't get all happy in the end, but it ended with a possibility of something... more. Not necessaily better, or happier, or not-broken, but just more than grayness and poisonous air. And this is a fine way to end a book.
I've been really impressed so far with the magazine (Flytrap) and the chapbooks Tropism produced so far. And I have been a fan of Greg's writing for some time now, mostly because he's so unashamed about writing things. So this chapbook was a double treat for me. Oh, and almost forgot: there are also doodles. Tons of interesting and occasionally creepy doodles by the author; they don't exactly illustrate the stories but rather complement them. And there's squid on the cover.